Plant Profile: Lovage Herb

Get to Know the hardy, durable, delicious lovage herb, includes a history of the herb and information on planting, growing and harvesting lovage.

| October/November 1992

Learn about the lovage herb, and tips on planting, growing and harvesting this delicious herb.

Lovage Herb Wellness and Food Recipes

Lovage Herb Cordial Recipe
Lovage Loving Mary Cocktail Recipe
Lovage Ratafia Cordial Recipe
How to Use the Lovage Herb

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is making a comeback. This hardy perennial member of the parsley family was grown in ancient monastery gardens. Other names for this herb are “sea parsley” and “love parsley”—its seeds were used in a medieval love ­potion. In the Middle Ages, the ­emperor Charlemagne so esteemed lovage that he decreed that it be grown in all his gardens.

Like many other ancient herbs, lovage originated in the Mediterranean region. Although its common names have romantic references, “lovage” is actually an alteration of the genus name Levisticum, which, as an alteration of Ligusticum, refers to the plant’s Ligurian origins. It was probably the Romans who brought it to Britain, and from there it traveled to the American colonies. The colonists found lovage hardy, easy to grow with minimal attention, and totally useful from the roots to the seeds. A large patch of lovage now thrives in the restored kitchen garden at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, and the plant is naturalized in much of the U.S. (If you’re thinking of foraging for lovage, beware: it bears a striking resemblance to another large umbellifer, poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, which is extremely poisonous.)

Growing Lovage

We can personally attest to the durability of lovage. Our first seedling made it bravely through one of our typically brutal winters in the Alle­gheny Highlands. In cold climates such as ours (Zone 4), the top growth dies back in winter and comes back in spring, each year about a foot taller than the year before until it reaches 3 or 4 feet high. In hotter climates where it can’t achieve the necessary dormancy, it might not come back at all.

Starting lovage from seeds requires patience. Like many other herbs, it has a long germination period and requires cool conditions. Furthermore, the seed must be sown fresh. If you like a challenge and wish to give it a go, get fresh seeds from a nursery or the umbrella-shaped flower heads cut just as they are changing from green to tan. Dry them upside down in a paper bag to catch the seeds, and sow these immediately in a dark, cool place. Then wait. Alternatively, obtain seed­lings from an herb nursery or beg a root division in fall or early spring from a friend who has an established plant. Lovage is so hardy and bushy that we doubt anyone would refuse your request.

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